Are you a zombie? Am I? Would we even know if we are?

I watched “The Greatest Showman” the other day. It was a kind of spiritual journey for me. The sound track has been echoing in my head ever since. There were so many lessons, so many truths about living life embedded in the lyrics.

greatest showmanOne of the biggest is to simply wake the hell up.

In the song “Come Alive,” we hear a call to more. To figuratively “come alive.” To get off the treadmill and to become truly present in our lives.

To those of you who know me well, it’s a familiar mantra. I’ve often talked about getting stuck on life’s treadmill or the hamster wheel, but here in the middle part of my life, despite being aware of this tendency of human beings, I have often questioned if that is in fact where I am at: stuck in a rut, going through the motions.

     

     zombieYou stumble through your days

     Got your head hung low

     Your skies’ a shade of grey

     Like a zombie in a maze

     You’re asleep inside

     But you can shake away

 

    ‘Cause you’re just a dead man walking

     Thinking that’s your only option

     But you can flip the switch and brighten up your darkest day

     Sun is up and the color’s blinding

     Take the world and redefine it

     Leave behind your narrow mind

    You’ll never be the same

 

It goes on to say:

     And you know you can’t go back again

     To the world that you were living in

     ‘Cause you’re dreaming with your eyes wide open

Jackman is addressing a psychological truth here, though I doubt he even realized it.

brainOur brains are literally wired for novelty. Our brains are continually taking in so much stimulation that, if nothing changes, our brains decide that we just don’t need that information and so we don’t even perceive it. Essentially, our brain defaults to auto-pilot, or the zombie mode that Hugh Jackman refers to in his song.

What does this look like? Let me try to explain.

Have you ever been in a deep sleep, but bolt awake when the fan, the AC, or the furnace stops running? Why do you wake up when the background noise stops?

Because it’s a change. Our brain is listening to everything. Our brain hears the blood rushing through our veins, the ice dispenser when it drops ice in the middle of the night, the traffic on the street in front of your house. Our brain literally controls what we are aware of. It is continually making judgement calls on our behalf–and sometimes it gets it wrong.

For instance, if you’re a parent, you’re probably pretty familiar with conversations that go something like this:

“Gavin! Get down here! I have told you 5 times to pick up you backpack.”

“Geesh, Mom! Why are you so mad? All you had to do was ask.”

“I did–5 times.”

“No, you didn’t. This is the first time you asked.”

Sound familiar? It should, or something quite like it.

charliebrownThe reality is that, to kids, we are really pretty much like the adults in a Charlie Brown cartoon: “Waa, waa, waa, wa, waa…”

Our children are so used to the sound of our voices in the background that our brains literally tune us out. It is not your child deciding not to listen (or at least not most of the time), but their brain says, “Oh, this is normal, nothing has changed and so you don’t need to hear this.” But when mom’s voice switches to an angry tone the brain says, “Uh, oh. This you need to hear.”

Our brain does this in all areas of our life. What’s new, what’s novel, what’s different, it tells us is worth seeing. What is normal, expected, mundane–not so much.

This can cause an enormous problem in our day to day lives if we’re not careful.

Couple problems

One of the biggest and most common problems I have heard about in marriages is “he stopped seeing me.” I know that was the truth in my own marriage. The thing that we fail to understand is that that is not the exception–it is inevitable unless we make a conscious choice to keep seeing, to keep changing, and to keep our significant other in the forefront. He or she becomes “status quo” and in the language of the brain “nothing has changed” so we don’t need to notice or see, and we stop seeing.

One of the most frequent regrets I have heard people voice is not appreciating the time they had with their children enough before they are gone. It falls into the same category: once we get used to something, we stop seeing it and appreciating it. The adage “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone” embodies this truth. You really don’t know until something changes, the change being the person leaving–and all of a sudden, often when it’s too late, you are aware of just how much that person meant.

birth photoIf you’re a parent, think back to what you felt the first time your firstborn was put into your arms. Do you love him or her any less today that you did that day? But how often do you feel now what you felt then? It takes a choice, a determination to think about, and focus on those little people you love so much, and then it all comes flooding in.

My children are growing. My son turned 14 this year. I have four years left with my little fella (not so little anymore–towering over 6 feet tall). The years have sped by, and I am all too aware of the moments lost and not savored. I have made a choice to choose to actively see my children. To force my brain to think about and appreciate these little miracles I get to live with, at least for the time being, on an almost daily basis.

We do the same thing in all areas of our life. We get used to the routine. The job that once thrilled us becomes “normal.” The activity that once excited us becomes “mundane.” The landscape that once filled us with awe becomes the background. Emerson talks about this in his work “From Nature.”

 “To speak truly, few adult persons can see nature. Most persons do not see the sun. At             least they have a very superficial seeing. The sun illuminates only the eye of the                       man, but shines into the eye and the heart of the child.”

Jim Elliot QuoteEmerson didn’t know the neuroscience that caused this “superficial seeing” but he had certainly observed it–as have we all if we are honest.

One of the choices I have made this year has been to be more present. In this modern world we live in we are inundated with noise. Being present requires reflection, and reflection can’t be had when there is a little glowing screen in the palm of our hand distracting us. I’ve made the decision to put that glowing screen down more often. To put it out of sight. To mute it.

To be present in my world.

I’ve also made the decision to consciously see what my brain thinks I don’t need to see. Most days on my way to work, I prayed that God would help me see who and what I needed to see. I consciously looked for the divine moments, the real life moments I was put in this job to be a part of.

You have to understand, in the life of a teacher, the moments fly by. We are assaulted with questions and decisions, class after class, and if I don’t make a conscious effort to see my students, I can go through the entire day jumping from crisis to crisis and/or just hitting auto pilot through my lessons.

But I didn’t get into teaching just to fill young minds with knowledge. I became a teacher to make a difference.

By being conscious, I was able to help students with real trauma and loss in their lives. I was able to inspire some. I was able to let them know that there was someone there who cared. How many of these encounters would I have missed if I hadn’t made a conscious effort to see?

How many did I miss because I am still a long way from living this way every moment?

I want to live with my eyes wide open. I want to see what’s right in front of me. The people who matter the most. The people who need me the most. The possibilities that are right there for the taking–if I only have the eyes to see.

Do you have the eyes to see those moments in your own life? The ones that really matter? The ones that are so very easily overlooked?

If not, in the words of Hugh Jackman, stop being a “zombie in a maze, flip the switch, and come alive.”

I promise you, you won’t regret it!

 

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Are you comfortable? Then it’s time to rock the boat!

stock-photo-5337523This morning, after dropping the girls off at school, I headed straight for the coffee pot to get a warm up on my now cooled coffee. I picked up the pot and stared at it blankly. It was empty. I blinked stupidly at it for a moment. It was empty…how was it empty?

I went through my mental list…Aaron grabbed a travel mug full before he left…still should have been a cup or two more…I had made a full pot, right? Of course I did! When would I not make a full pot in the morning? Silly thought, that! Well, then where did it go…

Gavin.

Gavin hadn’t headed to the bus stop yet when I left for the girls… Gavin?! My 11 year old son, 6th grade… coffee?!

I headed for the front door, and peeked out. The bus hadn’t come yet. Gavin was still there. I pseudo shouted (didn’t want to be too loud with still sleeping neighbors) and pantomimed toward him and my coffee mug. He pretended ignorance. I tried again. A distant, “Maybe…” was his response.

A maybe from Gavin means “Yes, but I don’t want to full out admit it lest I get into trouble.”

I stood blinking at him as he lifted my Starbucks travel cup and shot a hesitant smile in my direction.

boy-cup-cute-drinking-hot-Favim_com-264574My son helped himself to a cup of coffee, and as I watched I saw he was really drinking it.

I didn’t know how I felt about this. Too much change. My baby was just changing way too much for comfort. It was just such an adult thing for him to do!

He brushed his hair this morning. On his own. Without me having to tell him to do it, or more likely, just having to do it myself. He didn’t just wet it down and call it good—he brushed it.

Obviously there is a coffee drinking girl in the picture and she obviously takes the same bus he does. My kid is growing up.

why-turning-forty-is-actually-pretty-great-0

That’s a heck of a lot of candles!

If this wasn’t enough evidence of the ticking of the great clock of time, the fact that my two best friends just turned forty is irrefutable evidence of that darn clock. They’re forty, which means, I’m next. Granted, I have to turn thirty nine before I can turn forty, but it adds the sense of impending age, as if it is hanging over my head ready to swallow me into that group of officially past our prime, not yet elderly, but showing signs of wear and tear humanity.

And it doesn’t help that I keep getting invitations to join AARP in the mail. My husband, less than a year my junior, doesn’t get invitations to join, nope, not a one. But they keep rolling in for me! Maybe it’s because his man bun makes him look young and hip, maybe it’s because he still looks about thirty despite the slight graying at his temples. Maybe it’s because I’m  starting to look fifty, sixty…what’s the age to join AARP anyway! Surely it’s not 38! Geesh! They could at least wait until I turn 40! Come on already!

All of these factors are combining to force me to confront the reality that my life is about half over. That reality floats on the edge of my consciousness.

It’s not a vanity thing (though that’s there). It’s not the new wrinkles or the pudgier figure I now sport. It’s not that the face in the mirror sometimes doesn’t see like mine.

timeIt’s all about the time.

When you’re young, it feels like time spreads in front of you unending. There is so much of it, and you don’t really have a sense of it running out, ending–EVER. It feels like you have forever to do all the things you want to do. Years and years tumble before you in an endless string, all of this time to accomplish your dreams.

When you start nearing that forty mark, when your face shows the signs that your youth is fading, when your children start approaching their hero days and you begin to realize that you really are just a supporting character in their stories, the reality that the road does end, that time does run out, that it is limited and finite, starts to come home to roost. And that is uncomfortable to say the least.

As I have a tendency to do, I was reading a fantasy series the other day and was contemplating all the things that I would do with my time if, like a vampire, I didn’t have to worry about an aging body and an eventual death. As I contemplated, (and oh, the list was so long) I started to think of all I wouldn’t have the time to do. The books that will go unread, the countries that will go unseen, the languages I will never learn to speak, the things I will not have the time to learn…

I didn’t think of these things when I was twenty, because, though my time was limited even then, it didn’t feel limited.

This line of thought, rather than depressing me (though it does sadden me that, though I do happen to believe that there is life after to death, I don’t know that the things that matter now will matter then…will I want to read piles of books, or with immortality, does our need for knowledge disappear because we will know all things?) lit a fire under my oh, too comfortable derriere. If my time is finite, and quickly moving through the hour glass, I should not waste it on a treadmill (the figurative one).

ground hog's dayI don’t want to spend the last half of my life simply seeing the same scenery, living the same days over and over again (sometimes life feels a bit like “Groundhog’s Day,” doesn’t it?).

I need to get a move on it. I need to take some risks, and dare to make my dreams happen before it’s too late, before I run out of time.

It’s so easy to get comfortable, particularly as we get older. We surround ourselves with all these things that make us feel safe, cozy and well, comfortable. Our routines, our houses–all this stuff. We settle in. How could we risk all of this? It’s not practical.

Hmm…I think we give up more than we know in the name of practicality.

doubtMany dreams have died a slow death in the names of comfort and practicality.

Dreams, by their very nature, are at odds with comfort and practicality. They require guts, and risk, and daring.

No one is going to come and hand you your dream. The pursuit of dreams requires something from you–room for possibility–room for impossibility.

This idea has been coming at me from several directions all at the same time, and, being that I have been spending a lot of time in prayer about this very thing, I have chosen to believe that all of these are a confirmation that I need to get out of my comfort zone, stop being so practical, and start giving possibility a bit more room in my life.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained…

The pastor who spoke at our church on Sunday said something that really rang true with me. Sometimes we eliminate the possibility of the miraculous. If we are continually living within the box of practicality, of only what we know we can [afford, do, be] we never give the miraculous a chance.

I want the miraculous. I want to not just live comfortably, but live passionately knowing that I’ve made the most of the 80 or so years I get on this planet. I’m not going to get that by playing it safe.

When I read the Bible, I don’t see anything that leads me to think that we are supposed to live our lives in the pursuit of comfort. Show me one disciple who lived comfortably. You can’t.

The truth is, the Bible again and again tells us that life will be uncomfortable, or even more, if will be downright HARD. A continual test of faith.

comfort zoneIs your life a continual test of faith? Are you comfortable? Do you have a pretty good idea what your days are going to look like from today to the end of your life?

If your answer is yes, I believe you’re doing it all wrong, and I dare you to dare yourself for something MORE.

I’ve stepped out and taken a chance. I’ve given up my reliable, steady fulltime position at a job I didn’t really like and have accepted a job as an Associate Professor of psychology in one of our local colleges. I’ve always wanted to be a professor, though I always envisioned English, not Psychology. This is a dream of mine. A dream that requires an amount of risk.

I’m excited–and terrified.

It’s a risky move. The biggest risk factor that is killing my controlling nature is that, like most associate professor positions, it is part time, not full time, and so I’m going to have to supplement my income. I am going to need to make up the difference via tutoring, piano lessons, and hopefully, eventually, the odd writing job. Lots of uncertainty there.

Is it risky?

Yeah, that is definitely there. Giving up a sure thing is always risky.

But does it open the door of possibility?

Absolutely!

The time and opportunity to make a go of it as a writer is there. If I ever had a chance to do it, to make it, it’s now.

Not to mention the opportunity to be more present in the lives of my children, to capture the moments in these swiftly fleeting days.

Not to mention…I get to be a professor!

There are times when the uncertainty of it is very scary.

There are times that I want the security of the comfortable.

fall flyBut I confront these with the assurance that living life means taking risks, and with the firm belief that, if it’s what I’m supposed to do, it will work out. Somehow. And I do think it’s what I’m supposed to do.

So, I’ve stepped of the ledge. It’s time to see if I can fly or if I fall. Either way, I think it’s the right decision.

I take that back. It’s the only decision.